Hong Kong to issue 'red travel alert' against South Korea as Mers spreads

Hong Kong to issue 'red travel alert' against South Korea as Mers spreads
Airport staff stand by to wait for arriving passengers to conduct a temperature check at Hong Kong Airport in Hong Kong

SEOUL/HONG KONG - Hong Kong said on Tuesday it would issue a red alert against non-essential travel to South Korea where eight new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) were reported, bringing the total to 95 with seven fatalities.

Hong Kong's No. 2 official, Carrie Lam, told reporters just ahead of a meeting of the city's Executive Council that the red alert would be issued.

A red alert is defined as a "significant threat" according to the Hong Kong government, and means people should "adjust travel plans" and "avoid non-essential travel". On Monday, Hong Kong upgraded its response to the outbreak in South Korea to "serious".

Mr Nam Kyung Pil, governor of Gyeonggi province, which surrounds the South Korean capital, Seoul, said the country was fighting two wars. "The war against the disease and the war against fear," he said.

The number of new Korean cases reported on Tuesday was a sharp drop from 23 on Monday but the number of schools closed grew to 2,199, including 19 universities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) began work on a joint mission with South Korean doctors and officials to review the country's response and analyse the virus.

The WHO has not recommended any curbs on travel, but thousands of tourists have cancelled plans to visit South Korea.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye has called for an all-out national effort to eradicate the outbreak, which has been spreading since a 68-year-old businessman brought it home from a Middle East trip last month.

All subsequent infections in South Korea have occurred in health care facilities and been traced to the original patient. Twenty-three new cases were reported on Monday.

South Korea has the second highest number of infections after Saudi Arabia, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The seventh reported Mers death in South Korea was a 68-year-old woman who had an existing heart ailment and had been in the emergency room of a Seoul hospital, where a number of previous confirmed cases had been traced.

All 95 cases of Mers infection in South Korea have taken place in health-care facilities, according to the ministry.

The Chinese territory of Macau required masks for people entering local healthcare facilities as a precaution against Mers, and advised residents to avoid travel to South Korea unless absolutely necessary.

Some 2,892 people who may have had contact with MERS patients have been put under quarantine, some in hospitals but most at home. Authorities have said they are using mobile phones to track people who violate quarantine.

South Korea's new cases bring the total of MERS cases globally to 1,244, based on WHO data, with at least 446 related deaths.

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